The Second Greatest American

by Brad Nelson   4/4/14

Take part in the Second Greatest American poll which you’ll find at the bottom right of the page. Don’t worry about confidentiality. If you support someone that I don’t you won’t be sacked as Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich was simply because he donated money to support Proposition 8 in California.

Here, the only way to get banned is to be a nagging liberal who simply wants to write virtual graffiti on this site and share his or her misery. We have enough of our own, thank you.

The listing in the poll is, of course, highly subjective, so feel free to choose “other” and then write-in your choice here. You can get inspiration for your candidates from this Wiki article regarding the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

My own choice for #2 was John Wayne. That is partly because he is not just another politician. Most of the greatness of America has to do with things other than government. Wayne was the personification of American good-guy toughness, strength, courage, and integrity. And, personally, he was a hell of a guy as well.

Those who almost made the poll list (you have to stop somewhere) are Alexander Hamilton, Noah Webster, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Nikola Tesla, Calvin Coolidge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Katharine Hepburn, Alexander Graham Bell, Lou Gehrig, Will Rogers, and Clara Barton.

The #1 American, of course, is George Washington. This is largely undisputed, thus this poll to help sort out #2.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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22 Responses to The Second Greatest American

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    A lot of interesting choices already. I should note that Helen Keller was a socialist, and Lies My Teacher Taught Me complained that most people aren’t taught this. (The idea that Keller is significant because of what she went through, not for her politics, would never occur to a leftist.) As a first cousin five times removed of Abe Lincoln, I’d be tempted to name him, and despite his flaws he did take the key step toward finally completing the Declaration of Independence. One name I might suggest is Cornelius Vanderbilt, who as the owner of a steamship line decided he didn’t like paying for insurance, so he made sure his ships were well enough run not to need it. (He also opposed William Walker’s filibustering expeditions, though this may have been purely for business reasons.) I’ll have to think about this.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Vanderbilt sounds like a good nomination. And I didn’t know that Helen Keller was a socialist. Well, at least she had a good excuse for her blindness.

      That books sounds good. I put it up on the recommended reading list.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I see that Thomas Jefferson has boosted up in the polls. I’m not trying to sway things one way or the other, but he’s certainly a logical candidate.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I see that the James Madison and Abraham Lincoln contingent have made a move for the top spot. And a surprise vote for Thomas Edison. I had to include him in there because invention and innovation (something we take for granted) is so central to the success of America. Politicians (even good ones) we can live without. But that human spirit unleashed in a positive way to deal with life, its problems, and its opportunities is what America is all about.

    Unfortunately, this approach is being smothered by the state and all the pathetically stupid people who keep voting for these nanny statists.

    Granted, if I had my choice (I’ve already voted), I would have picked Tesla over Edison because Edison was an asshole. He was particularly egregiously so because he and his company tried to slander Tesla’s AC method of distributing electricity as opposed to Edison’s inferior DC. No doubt Timothy will remind us of the book, AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War. One Amazon reviewer says that the much better book is Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I was the one who voted for Edison. I did so because he was such a remarkable inventor, and also because he combined that with good business sense (unlike so many inventors). Then, too, there was Isaac Asimov’s point that when Edison announced he was going to work on electric lighting, gas-light shares fell on the London stock market.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, that’s why I put him up there in the rare company to be nominated as the second greatest American.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Timothy, I downloaded the free Kindle sample of Empires of Light last night and started reading it. It was so good that I went ahead and purchased it at the Kindle store.

    At this point of the story, it’s a very good summary of man’s discoveries regarding electricity. Some of these names I had never heard of, but Jill Jones does an excellent job (so far) of giving a detailed (but not too detailed) outline. I wonder if Jill is a lesbian. She writes about these subjects somewhat with a guy-like interest. I’m only half joking.

    We’ll see if this holds true when we get to the main event, the Edison/Tesla/Westinghouse triode. But so far it’s not a chick flick story of electricity, as Doris Goodwin’s excellent biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals, sometimes was. (I got a bit tired hearing about what the ladies of the period were wearing). I like a good balance of story and details, and so far she is offering that up in spades.

    Many books written by guys are so bogged down in mindless facts and details as to be unreadable. At StubbornThings we bravely note the differences between men and women, their strengths and weaknesses, and admire both aspects. This is true “diversity,” not the “diversity” spoken by that pompous ass broad from Mozilla in the firing of Brendan Eich.

    I’m up to the point in the book where she is talking about Michael Faraday. She paints him as a most extraordinary British chap — not only in terms of his brainpower but that he wasn’t an air-headed pompous ass. She noted that unlike almost all the men who proceeded him in regards to discoveries about electricity, he didn’t join the lecture circuit, hobnobbing with the Lords and Ladies and forgetting all further research. Instead, he apparently remained a humble man, dedicated to both his family and his research. And apparently he was a tremendous speaker as well. He would give a Sunday evening exposition on science — paying forward the very thing that got him interested in science. His career up to that point was book-binding until some customer gave him tickets to a scientific lecture.

    One of his most famous lecture is The Chemical History of a Candle which is available free for the Kindle. I would imagine that this is in the public domain and can be had from other sources as well, including

    Faraday’s contributions to science were many. But the one that put him on the map — and started the modern electronics revolution — was discovering how to create electricity from magnetism (by basically moving a magnet around conductive wire). Heretofore it had been discovered how to make a magnet (an electromagnet) out of electricity (wind wire around a piece of metal and send a current through the wire).

    Before then, the best way they had of making electricity was via static electricity, and then storing bits of it in a Leyden jar. Faraday’s discoveries opened the door to taking the various existing sources of kinetic energy (steam engines, wind mills, water wheels, etc.) and making a constant source of electricity. Volta, of course, did invent a useful, if limited, type of battery for storing electricity.

    It’s fun reading this because we take the simple light bulb for granted. But back then, Edison was kept busy in part by electrifying the homes of the mega-rich, such as Morgan and Vanderbilt. At one time, turning a switch and causing a room to be lit up would engender oohs and aahs.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This definitely sounds interesting. I have a number of books dealing with aspects of scientific research as well as inventions, so I’ll have to check this out sometime.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    And the astute masses have spoken: Ronald Reagan is hereby proclaimed the Second Greatest America. Is there room for another on Mount Rushmore?

  6. Douglas Hunter says:

    Ulysses S. Grant should be given serious consideration.

    Ulysses S. Grant was firstly a devoted husband and father. Before we jump to the Civil war it is worth noting that he was a talented artist and was also considered one of the best equestrians in the history of the country (holding the highest jump on a horse at West Point for decades). Grant was an honest, gracious, and loyal man who lived a life filled with difficulties, adversities, and demons to overcome and he fought through all with dignity, courage, strength, and resolve.

    Without Grant’s leadership as a General we might not have the United States as we know it today. He was the victor in every campaign that he led in the Civil War (some of which were brilliant even to the point of educating the great General Sherman who didn’t understand the Vicksburg campaign until Vicksburg was surrounded). The examples of his war time Generalship are too numerous to detail here but in depth and critical analysis truly show greatness.

    His handling of the close of the war at Appomattox and the quiet handling of the terms of surrender which Sherman was involved with were unparalleled. The way he handled the crisis of Lincoln’s assassination and dealing with the difficulties which were brought upon the country by President Johnson (like forcing the President and the US Government to abide by the terms at Appomattox).

    The mountain of difficulty faced during his Presidency and the success that he had in avoiding war with Great Britain by setting up a new precedent of arbitration between nations, trying to secure voting rights and prevent puppet local and state governments in the south from gaining control and destroying what was being attempted in reconstructing the nation, attempting to secure safe voting for African Americans (quoting from Jean Edward Smith’s book pg. 547 and McPherson’s, Ordeal by Fire pg. 560 “that the 1872 vote was” “the fairest and most democratic presidential election in the south until 1968”) , along with going to war against the KKK, trying to prevent the complete slaughter of every Native American in the nation, these are some of the roughest waters that had to be navigated by any President which were seemingly endless but handled with foresight and great care. Even though mistakes were made there were great attempts to secure proper and lasting measures.

    Even after serving as President he received unprecedented respect from leaders and countries around the world. He had the clout to assist China and Japan from going to war, with both countries seeking his advice and then accepting his assessment and recommendations to settle the matter and avoid war.

    I believe that it could be argued that Grant cemented the United States as a world power (he surely knew that when the US Navy put iron ships in the water that all the Navies in the world were obsolete along with other military advances).

    His memoirs are by far the best first hand account of the Civil War and will undoubtedly stand the test of time as clear, concise, and one of the best military histories ever written.

    He also was the first to import Arabian horses to the United States.

    Grant’s importance to our nation is overlooked by many, but those who lived during his time built him the largest tomb in America knowing that his war time leadership saved the country and that he made every effort to unite and heal our nation as President. That’s why his casket was carried by both Union and Confederate officers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Douglas, you’ve pummeled me into submission with your eloquent and detailed affirmative arguments and it will be forever to my shame that I didn’t list him in that poll to begin with. That has been remedied. This poll can be found, with the others, in the Poll Archive where most of the polls are still active (but the timely ones have been closed).

      That’s why his casket was carried by both Union and Confederate officers.

      Coincidentally I just read a brief summary of this account in the book, “Empires of Light.” That’s quite an unusual tribute to the man, for he was responsible more than anyone for killing and maiming so many of the Confederate soldiers.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        On the other hand, consider that Joe Johnston died of pneumonia he caught standing hatless in the rain at William T. Sherman’s funeral. These old soldiers knew each other, and in most cases their friendships survived the “late unpleasantness”.

        • Douglas Hunter says:

          Mr. Lane,

          You have sighted another wonderful example of why I believe Grant was such a key figure in laying the foundations for these friendships to survive and continue. Grant’s handling of the events at Appomattox, Sherman’s surrender terms, and preventing the prosecution of Lee for treason are compelling moments that point to him helping to create an atmosphere where these friendships could once again flourish.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    While Grant may have been a better general than the others who had filled his position prior to him, I do not think his Virginia Campaign was very brilliant. The Wilderness, Spotsylvania and especially Cold Harbor were unnecessarily bloody and that is mainly due to Grant. He was no doubt implacable, but at the great cost of his men. Obviously, I do not agree with the revisionist history which has claimed he was a military genius.

    I do agree that more than any other man, he was responsible for keeping some of the more radical Republicans from imposing harsher terms on the South, thus easing the South’s return to the Union and very likely sparing future bloodshed.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One way I judge any biography of Grant is by its handling of his refusal to seek a truce to bury his dead and (especially) recover his wounded after the June 3 assault on Cold Harbor. Perhaps the most appropriate discovery once they finally took care of the dead was the discovery of a soldier’s diary with the final entry: “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.”

      • Douglas Hunter says:

        Mr. Kung Fu Zu & Mr. Lane,

        It is evident that you both are very well versed on these topics and I don’t envision being persuasive enough to change your minds.

        I understand your thinking about the Virginia Campaign but want to add a few thoughts:

        I do believe that Grant’s story is much greater than is commonly portrayed and I contend that it is actually quite remarkable.

        I am not trying to revise history and profess that Grant was a military genius. I believe there were times where he did show military brilliance (I think a strong case can be made on his behalf for most of his Civil War campaigns).

        My goal was to place Grant into the conversation about being a great American based on an overview of his long and dedicated service to our great nation. He served in two wars with honor, served as President for eight years during a very difficult period in our history, and even represented himself and our nation around the world with great dignity and distinction after his Presidency. I like the fact that his used his fame to help the new NRA, serving as their President.

        Your description of Grant being implacable (a much better description than any of mine) is what goes to the heart of my assessment of his life.

        He knew how to be relentless in his efforts. Grant did not let mistakes or difficulties halt an endeavor. His greatest achievements may very well be attributed to his ability to bring all the talent that he did possess to bear on the task set before him with a focused resolve and unflinching determination.

        A good example of Grant’s talent for persevering is the story of finishing his memoirs before his death so that he could save his family from financial ruin. This he accomplished by delivering one of the great works in American literature!

        Maybe the United States was in need of the implacable Grant at these very critical moments in our nations history. I am thankful for all of Grant’s service.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I would agree that his final maneuver against Vicksburg was brilliantly planned and conducted (he was helped by the poor performance of his opponents, especially Pemberton, but you could say the same of Lee’s most brilliant moves) as well as in his transfer from Cold Harbor to Petersburg. But his handling of the aftermath of the June 3 attack was a major blot on his record. (So was the attack itself, but there was no one in the war who escaped major errors on occasion.)

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          You did arouse my interest enough for me to download his autobiography on to my Kindle. So your post was a success as far as I am concerned.

          It should be well written as, if I recall correctly, Samuel Clemens helped him with it as Grant was near to death and the profits from the book were to support Grant’s family after his death.

          • Douglas Hunter says:

            Mr. Kung Fu Zu,

            You are going to be very pleased with Grant’s Memoir.

            Twain was so impressed with Grant’s writing that he called it “a literary masterpiece”.

            Twain was very helpful as the editor, publisher, and friend.

            Grant and Twain worked very hard to make it very clear that Grant wrote the Memoir himself. The main reason for this was that Adam Badeau who had already written a three volume work on Grant’s military history was helping Grant with research on the memoir and ultimately had to be dismissed when a controversy over the authorship surfaced (along with Badeau wanting more money). Twain helped with the press to make it clear that Grant was doing the actual writing (Twain knew that his involvement would also bring speculation about authorship).

            There is even a good book about Grant & Twain’s relationship and the writing of the memoir.
            Grant & Twain, by Mark Perry

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Samuel Clemens’s praise could be biased, but I will note that Grant’s autobiography generally is very highly regarded as such things go (and as one who has a copy, I would agree). For that matter, Sherman’s is quite good too (though I’ve never been interested in any other biography of the notorious incendiary).

  8. Douglas Hunter says:

    Mr. Nelson, I thank you for your kind words about my brief summary of Ulysses S. Grant and appreciate you reconsidering him in your poll. There are numerous resources available about this great American Hero.

    ‘Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant’ is a great read.

    ‘Grant’ by Jean Edward Smith is a wonderful biography (one of the best to date).

    ‘Grant and Lee’ (A Study in Personality and Generalship) by Major General J.F.C. Fuller (interesting comparison of the two Generals)

    ‘The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography’ by James T. White & Co. Vol. IV has a very good brief biography on Grant.

    ‘Grant, Lincoln, and the Freedmen’ by John Eaton

    There are plenty more great books on Ulysses S. Grant, but one more note of interest:

    I do not recommend ‘Grant’ by William S. McFeely (even though it won a Pulitzer Prize) On page 9 in the second paragraph, he proceeds to do a very subjective character assassination on Grant’s mother Hannah, which causes the reader to question the rest of the biography in terms of intellectual honesty, research ability, and a possible bias since he has no evidence to support his lines starting off with “Conceivably” and “Possibly”. There are other biographies that discuss Grant’s mother that are quite the opposite of this slanderous portrayal provided to the reader from the imagination of this biographer.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Fuller greatly admired Grant, and his friendly rival Liddell Hart similarly admired Sherman. Parodying an earlier Liddell Hart title referring to Scipio Africanus as “A Greater Than Napoleon”, Fuller suggested he do a biography of Sherman titled or subtitled “A Greater Than Genghis Khan”.

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